Are you looking to plan an international vacation? Think that a trip abroad is out of budget? Think again! I’ve compiled a list of the best cheap European vacations so you can plan a once-in-a-lifetime trip on a budget!
In travel and adventure, the belief that “you get what you pay for” is all too prevalent. Many people, looking at the glittering cities, luxury resorts, and exquisite culture of Europe, often resign themselves to the myth that this Old Continent is a playground only for the affluent. However, nothing could be further from the truth. The real beauty of Europe doesn’t necessarily reside in its opulent landmarks but rather in its diverse cultures, stunning landscapes, and rich history. These treasures are accessible to anyone with a sense of wanderlust, regardless of their budget.
I have traveled Europe extensively. And through my journeys to over 35 countries, I’ve discovered that some of the best places the visit are not the most expensive. I’ve also learned how to make my dollar go further to have a trip that is not only budget-friendly but just as exciting. You don’t need to hit tourist hot spots to enjoy yourself. Trust me.
Embrace the notion that affordable travel in Europe is possible and incredibly rewarding. Let’s embark on this exciting journey together and uncover the secrets of Europe’s budget-friendly vacations waiting for you to discover!
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How to score airline discounts for cheap European vacations
Are you looking for cheap airline tickets for an affordable European vacation? Before going in-depth on the best places for a cheap Europe vacation, I want to share a quick tip on how to save on airfare.
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Cheap European vacations: 8 cheapest places for an affordable trip in 2023
In this guide, I aim to debunk the myth that Europe is a costly destination. Introducing you to eight of its most enchanting yet affordable corners lets you see that bucket list travel is possible on almost any budget.
Today, we will dive into the heart of Europe, revealing lesser-known, budget-friendly destinations. From the sunny, cobblestone streets of Porto, Portugal to the serene, coastal beauty of Zadar, Croatia, we’ll explore affordable accommodations, taste local delicacies that won’t break the bank, and wander through history-steeped streets without worrying about the cost.
Let this guide be your passport to the budget-friendly adventure of a lifetime! Together, we will prove that the real essence of travel is not measured in dollars but in experiences.
And now, without further ado, here are eight top destinations for cheap European vacations!
1. Porto, Portugal
Immerse yourself in the rich tapestry of Porto, Portugal, a city brimming with cultural heritage, romantic ambiance, and stunning landscapes. Nestled along the Douro River Estuary in Northern Portugal, Porto is a dream destination for the thrifty traveler. It’s a city where old-world charm coexists with vibrant modernity, and its affordable cost of living makes it an unbeatable choice for a cheap European vacation.
Porto’s cultural allure is irrefutable. Stroll through Ribeira’s narrow, cobblestone streets, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and marvel at its colorful, historic houses. Visit the Livraria Lello, considered one of the most beautiful bookshops in the world, for a small fee. Don’t miss the iconic Dom Luís I Bridge, from which the panoramic view of the city is entirely free and utterly priceless.
Additionally, a thriving food scene awaits the gastronomically adventurous. The city’s inexpensive cafes and eateries offer delicious Portuguese dishes like the famous Francesinha sandwich, often for less than the price of a fast-food meal back home.
The city’s public transportation is cost-effective and efficient, making it easy to explore further. The river cruises on traditional “Rabelo” boats offer breathtaking views of the city and its surrounding wine country at a surprisingly low cost. And let’s not forget the world-renowned Port wine – you can savor this local specialty directly from the cellars where it’s produced without breaking the bank.
In Porto, affordable does not equate to mundane or mediocre. The city’s charm, cultural richness, and inviting atmosphere ensure a rewarding vacation that defies its modest cost. In Porto, the priceless experiences will far outweigh your expenses.
Accomodations for a cheap European vacation in Porto
Accommodation in Porto comes in a variety of styles to suit any budget. From economical yet cozy guest houses to affordable boutique hotels and even budget-friendly hostels, the city has options that won’t compromise your comfort or wallet.
2. Kraków, Poland
Experience the allure of Kraków, a hidden gem tucked away in southern Poland, radiating with history, charm, and affordable options for any budget-minded traveler. Known for its well-preserved medieval architecture and Jewish quarter, Kraków offers an in-depth plunge into the annals of European history and culture without the hefty price tag associated with more mainstream European destinations.
Kraków’s impressive historical heritage is its main draw. The Royal Wawel Castle and the St. Mary’s Basilica tower over the city, serving as reminders of its grand past, and can be admired without cost. A stroll through the Old Town, another UNESCO World Heritage Site, will lead you to the largest medieval market square in Europe, Rynek Główny, offering a time capsule experience for free.
Kraków’s public transportation is convenient, efficient, and incredibly affordable, granting you effortless access to the city’s many attractions. Venture to the historic Jewish quarter, Kazimierz, to enjoy its unique ambiance and reasonably-priced eateries. A short, budget-friendly bus ride will take you to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp and the Wieliczka Salt Mine, two significant historical sites offering humbling experiences.
By choosing Kraków, you are opting for a city that combines historical depth, cultural richness, and affordability. It provides a genuinely Polish experience that respects your budget and enriches your understanding of Europe’s diverse and fascinating heritage. Don’t let this underrated, pocket-friendly city pass under your travel radar.
Affordable accomodations in Kraków
Accommodations in Kraków provide value for money. Choose from affordable hostels, economical boutique hotels, and cost-effective apartments within walking distance of the Old Town. Dining in Kraków is a culinary journey through hearty Polish cuisine that won’t stretch your budget. Savor local favorites like pierogi, kielbasa, or a comforting bowl of zurek, all for a fraction of the cost of a typical meal in Western Europe.
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3. Budapest, Hungary
The magnetic allure of Budapest, Hungary’s vibrant capital, lies in its rich history, grand architecture, and the accessibility of its luxuries even to the budget-conscious traveler. Straddling the Danube River, with Buda on one side and Pest on the other, Budapest offers the quintessential European experience for a fraction of the cost.
Budapest’s historical and cultural offerings are both expansive and affordable. Walk along the historic Andrássy Avenue, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, or marvel at the grandeur of the Parliament building without spending a penny. Free walking tours guide you through the city’s tumultuous history and varied architecture. Don’t miss the breathtaking panoramic views of the city from the free-to-access Fisherman’s Bastion, especially stunning at sunset.
Public transportation in Budapest is affordable and efficient, facilitating easy access to various parts of the city. Treat yourself to a budget-friendly soak in one of the city’s famous thermal baths, such as the Széchenyi Thermal Bath or the Gellért Bath, a luxury that’s accessible even to those watching their pennies.
Nightlife in Budapest is both exciting and inexpensive. Experience the unique ambiance of the city’s ruin bars, where old, abandoned buildings have been transformed into lively and budget-friendly nightspots.
Dining is another area where Budapest shines for the budget traveler. Authentic Hungarian dishes like goulash, lángos, and chicken paprikash are available at local eateries for surprisingly low prices, providing a delicious exploration of the country’s culinary heritage.
Opting for Budapest as your European vacation spot guarantees a rendezvous with history, culture, and grandeur, all within an affordable range. The city’s charm and modest prices ensure an unforgettable journey that will keep your spirit enriched and your budget intact.
Budget-friendly accomodations in Budapest
Accommodation options in Budapest range from friendly hostels and quaint guesthouses to affordable hotels conveniently located near the city’s iconic landmarks.
4. Sofia, Bulgaria
Uncover the remarkable blend of antiquity and modernity that characterizes Sofia, Bulgaria’s capital. Set against the backdrop of Vitosha Mountain, Sofia is an underrated destination that caters to budget travelers without compromising on history, culture, or beauty. Sofia may be one of the cheapest cities in Europe, but it has much to offer the curious traveler.
Sofia’s historical richness is both enchanting and accessible. Wander through the city’s streets, and you’ll encounter a medley of Roman, Ottoman, and Soviet influences – a testament to the city’s diverse history. The majestic Alexander Nevsky Cathedral and the ancient ruins of the Roman-era Serdica complex offer profound cultural experiences without a hefty admission fee. In Sofia, history is not just to be read, it’s to be lived and breathed, and it doesn’t come with a steep price.
Getting around Sofia is budget-friendly, with an efficient network of trams, buses, and a metro system. The proximity of Vitosha Mountain provides ample opportunities for affordable outdoor activities such as hiking and skiing. Add in the budget-friendly local markets and the delightful city parks, and Sofia becomes an ideal vacation destination for the cost-conscious traveler.
Dining in Sofia is an affordable indulgence. Savour Bulgarian culinary staples like banitsa, shopska salad, and kebapche at local eateries that offer quality food for surprisingly low prices.
Sofia’s rich history, stunning architecture, and incredible natural beauty are all available to you without stretching your budget. It offers a European experience unlike any other – one that showcases a captivating blend of past and present, where even the most frugal traveler can indulge in the city’s charm and culture. Choosing Sofia for your cheap European vacation ensures a budget-friendly yet rewarding journey into the heart of Bulgaria.
Find accommodations for a cheap European vacation in Sofia
Sofia’s range of accommodations is tailored to fit any budget, with options from hospitable hostels and budget hotels to affordable apartments conveniently located near the city center.
5. Athens, Greece
Experience the unique blend of ancient history and modern vibrancy that defines Athens, Greece’s timeless capital. Known as the cradle of Western civilization, Athens offers an accessible and affordable journey through millennia of cultural heritage.
Historical exploration in Athens is both enriching and affordable. The city’s ancient and iconic landmarks, like the Acropolis, the Parthenon, and the ancient Agora, invite you to traverse the annals of time for a moderate entrance fee. Many other sites, like the changing of the guard ceremony in Syntagma Square and the bustling Monastiraki Flea Market, are entirely free.
Public transportation in Athens is both efficient and economical, making it easy to explore the city and its surroundings. A short tram ride leads to the city’s coastline, where you can enjoy a beach day without a hefty price tag. And, of course, Greek cuisine, known for its tantalizing flavors and health benefits, is another area where Athens excels for the budget-conscious. Indulge in local delicacies like souvlaki, moussaka, and fresh Greek salad at local tavernas that won’t strain your wallet.
Choosing Athens as your vacation destination immerses you in a city where the past meets the present. It’s where mythology blends with modernity. It’s a chance to delve into the heart of ancient civilization while enjoying vibrant city life, all without breaking the bank. Athens promises a vacation that is not only friendly to your budget but also rich in experiences that are priceless and truly Greek.
Affordable accommodations in Athens
Athens caters to the economical traveler with an array of accommodations fitting every budget. From charming and inexpensive hostels located in the city center to budget apartments boasting views of the Acropolis, there’s no need to splurge to find comfort.
6. Zadar, Croatia
Embrace the serene beauty of the Adriatic Sea in Zadar, a captivating city on Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast. Zadar offers a unique blend of rich history, spectacular nature, and Mediterranean charm, making it an attractive and budget-friendly alternative to more crowded and expensive coastal cities.
Historical exploration in Zadar is a journey through time that doesn’t come with a high price tag. The city’s Old Town, encased within ancient Roman walls, houses numerous historical treasures, such as the 9th-century St. Donatus Church and the Roman Forum, which can be admired for free.
Zadar’s unique attractions add to its appeal for the cost-conscious traveler. The enchanting Sea Organ, an architectural marvel that creates harmonious sounds as the waves lap against it, and the Greeting to the Sun, a solar-powered light display, offer unforgettable experiences at no cost.
Additionally, public transportation in Zadar is affordable and convenient, providing easy access to the city’s surrounding natural wonders. A few budget-friendly ferry rides can take you to stunning nearby islands like Ugljan and Dugi Otok. Paklenica National Park, a paradise for hiking and climbing enthusiasts, is just a short, inexpensive bus ride away.
Choosing Zadar for your cheap European getaway opens the door to a world where history, culture, and nature harmoniously coexist. It offers an affordable retreat into the Mediterranean lifestyle, where the rich tapestry of experiences far outweighs the monetary cost.
Find cheap places to stay in Zadar
Zadar provides a range of budget-friendly accommodations. This includes comfortable hostels, affordable guesthouses, and vacation rentals, many offering enchanting sea views. Though underrated, Zadar is among the best destinations for a cheap Europe vacation.
7. Tallinn, Estonia
Step into the enchanting blend of medieval charm and modern innovation in Tallinn, the vibrant capital of Estonia. As one of the best-preserved medieval cities in Europe, Tallinn offers an engaging yet affordable journey through centuries of fascinating history. For the cheapest places to travel in Europe, the Baltic Region is among the best.
Tallinn’s UNESCO World Heritage-listed Old Town is a journey into the past that doesn’t demand a fortune. Medieval landmarks such as the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, Toompea Castle, and the town’s defensive walls are accessible for free or at a minimal fee. Additionally, many of the city’s vibrant markets and festivals, like the St. Martin’s Day Fair, offer unique cultural experiences at no cost.
Tallinn’s compact size makes it easy to explore on foot, saving you transportation costs. However, public transportation, when needed, is affordable and reliable. Estonian cuisine, known for its hearty flavors, is another area where Tallinn excels for the budget-conscious. Enjoy local delicacies like rye bread, kohuke, and the traditional Christmas treat of black pudding at local diners that won’t break your budget.
Choosing Tallinn for your vacation means immersing yourself in a beautiful fairy tale setting where ancient cobblestone lanes meet modern digital innovation. It’s a chance to explore a corner of Europe steeped in history yet bustling with modern life without stretching your budget. Tallinn delivers a travel experience rich in culture, history, and affordability, proving that great value can come at a small cost.
The best accommodations in Tallinn
Accommodations in Tallinn cater to the frugal traveler without compromising comfort. From quaint and low-priced hostels within the city walls to budget apartments with views of the medieval cityscape, your stay in Tallinn can be cost-effective and charming.
8. Ljubljana, Slovenia
Slovenia’s capital, Ljubljana, is a delightful yet often overlooked European gem that combines abundant natural beauty, rich history, and affordability, making it a perfect destination for the cost-conscious traveler. Slovenia is among the cheapest countries in Europe, with so much to offer.
Ljubljana’s pedestrian-friendly city center is rich in historical landmarks, most of which can be explored for free or cheaply. Wander through the charming streets of the Old Town, admire the medieval Ljubljana Castle perched above the city, or relax by the scenic Ljubljanica River. Many of the city’s museums and galleries offer discounted or free admission on certain days.
Ljubljana’s green credentials further add to its appeal for budget travelers. As one of Europe’s greenest cities, Ljubljana offers numerous parks and green spaces perfect for picnics, hikes, and leisurely walks. Tivoli Park, the city’s largest, provides a tranquil retreat from the urban hustle and doesn’t cost a cent to enjoy.
The city’s culinary scene is another area where Ljubljana shines for the budget traveler. From bustling food markets offering an array of local delicacies to affordable restaurants serving traditional Slovenian dishes, you can savor the local flavors without overspending.
Ljubljana, with its perfect blend of intriguing history, vibrant culture, and natural beauty, is a dream destination for any budget traveler. By choosing Ljubljana, you opt for an experience where the wealth of memories overshadows the monetary cost you will undoubtedly acquire.
The best accommodations in Ljubljana for a cheap European vacation
Accommodations in Ljubljana range from cozy, affordable hostels to budget-friendly hotels, often housed in historic buildings. You can find many options that offer comfort and convenience without straining your wallet.
Frequently Asked Questions about Europe cheap vacations
Looking to dive deeper into cheap vacation packages to Europe? Here are some common questions and answers about the cheapest European vacations.
What is the cheapest month to visit Europe?
The cheapest months to visit Europe are typically in the off-peak travel season, from November to March. However, this excludes the December holiday period. Among these, January and February are often the cheapest European travel months.
During these months, flight and accommodation costs are usually at their lowest as demand decreases. You can often find exceptional deals on airfare, hotels, and tours. Many European cities also offer winter discounts for museums and attractions.
While you may have to contend with colder weather and shorter days, there are benefits to traveling during these months. Major cities are less crowded, allowing you to explore popular attractions at your leisure. The winter landscapes can also be breathtakingly beautiful. Additionally, if you enjoy winter sports, this is the perfect time to hit the slopes in mountainous countries like Switzerland, Austria, or France.
However, remember that the best time to visit can depend on your destination and interests. For example, exploring the Mediterranean region in the late fall or early spring with milder weather is more enjoyable.
While traveling in the cheapest months can save you money, planning your trip according to what you want to see and do is essential. Be sure to research the weather, local customs, and opening times for attractions in your chosen destination before you book.
What is the cheapest place in Europe to vacation in?
The cheapest place to vacation in Europe can be subjective, depending on factors like your departure location, travel style, and the time of year. However, a few notable places stand out. These destinations consistently come up as the most affordable due to their lower cost of living, inexpensive accommodation options, and the affordability of food and attractions:
Bucharest, Romania. Known for its vibrant nightlife and rich history, Bucharest offers extremely affordable accommodation, food, and entertainment. Its historic sites, like the Palace of the Parliament and charming Old Town, offer a cultural feast at a budget price.
Sofia, Bulgaria. As one of the oldest cities in Europe, Sofia is rich in history and culture. The city offers some of the cheapest accommodation in Europe, and the cost of dining and attractions is also very affordable.
Porto, Portugal. This coastal city in Portugal is beautiful and less expensive than many other European cities. The food and wine are incredible and surprisingly affordable, especially considering the quality.
Krakow, Poland. Krakow is known for its stunning architecture and poignant history. It offers reasonably priced accommodation, cheap, hearty food, and free or low-cost historical attractions.
Belgrade, Serbia. Serbia’s capital is an emerging tourist destination that offers a mix of Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian histories. Accommodations, food, and attractions are all quite affordable, and the city has a vibrant nightlife.
Lviv, Ukraine. Lviv is a cultural hub with a stunning old town, numerous museums, and the famous Lviv Theatre of Opera and Ballet. The city is known for its affordable food, cheap beer, and budget-friendly accommodations.
How can I travel cheaply in Europe?
Traveling cheaply in Europe is achievable with a little planning and smart choices. Here’s how:
Off-Peak Travel. Costs for flights and accommodations drop significantly during the off-peak season. Avoid traveling in the summer months and instead opt for late spring or early fall, when tourist crowds are smaller and prices are lower.
Budget Airlines and Trains. Europe boasts a number of budget airlines such as Ryanair and EasyJet, offering cheap flights across the continent. Alternatively, consider the comprehensive train network, which can be a cost-effective and scenic way to travel.
Public Transportation. Taxis can be expensive. Most European cities have excellent public transportation systems that are efficient and budget-friendly. Consider getting a city transportation pass if you plan on using public transport frequently.
Accommodation. Choose hostels, budget hotels, or vacation rentals over luxury accommodations. Websites like Airbnb, Booking.com, or Hostelworld can help you find affordable places to stay.
Food. Eating out for every meal can add up. Opt for local markets and grocery stores to save on food costs. When you do eat out, try smaller, local eateries instead of tourist hotspots.
Free Attractions. Many cities offer free attractions, including museums with free admission days, historic sites, and landmarks. Walking tours are often a cost-effective way to explore.
Travel Insurance. It may seem like an unnecessary expense, but travel insurance can save you a significant amount of money if unexpected issues occur.
By being savvy with your money and planning ahead, you can have a fantastic European vacation on a budget.
How can I make the most out of my cheap European vacation?
Making the most out of your cheap vacation in Europe is all about planning, flexibility, and embracing local experiences. Here’s how:
Plan Ahead. Research your chosen destinations beforehand to understand what sights, activities, and experiences you shouldn’t miss. Plan out your major activities, but also leave room for spontaneous adventures.
Use City Tourist Cards. Many European cities offer tourist cards that provide free or discounted access to major attractions, public transport, and even restaurants. This could result in substantial savings and increased convenience.
Embrace Local Culture. Try local foods, learn a few phrases of the local language, and engage with the locals. These immersive experiences often come at a low cost but can significantly enrich your travel experience.
Free and Low-Cost Attractions. Many cities offer free walking tours, and museums may have days when entry is free or discounted. Parks, public spaces, and historic sites often provide fantastic experiences at no cost.
Pack Wisely. Be prepared for varying weather conditions and pack essentials to avoid expensive purchases. This includes a good pair of walking shoes, as exploring by foot is often the cheapest and most enjoyable way to see a city.
Stay Flexible. Be open to changing your plans based on local recommendations or newfound opportunities. Often, the most memorable experiences come from unplanned adventures.
What are some common hidden costs I should be aware of when traveling on a budget in Europe?
When planning a budget vacation, it’s essential to consider some often overlooked or hidden costs that could inflate your budget. Here are some to keep in mind:
Tourist Taxes. Many European cities charge a tourist tax, which isn’t always included in the accommodation price. This is typically a small per-night fee.
Baggage Fees. Budget airlines often have strict baggage policies and charge extra for checked baggage or if your carry-on exceeds the weight or size limit.
Currency Exchange. Banks and credit cards often charge fees for foreign transactions. Additionally, currency exchange centers, particularly those in airports, often have high exchange rates. Consider a card with no foreign transaction fees and use reliable ATMs for withdrawals.
Tipping. Tipping customs vary across Europe. In some places, tips are expected in restaurants, taxis, and for services like guided tours. Research tipping etiquette for your destination beforehand.
Transportation Costs. While public transport is generally affordable, costs can add up if you’re making multiple journeys a day. Look into day or week passes for public transport.
Data Roamin.: Using your phone abroad can result in hefty roaming fees. Consider getting a local SIM card, or check if your carrier offers affordable international packages.
Attraction Costs. Admission prices for tourist attractions can add up. Many cities offer city cards for unlimited or discounted access to attractions.
Travel Insurance. Although it may seem like an extra expense, travel insurance can save you a lot of money if something goes wrong.
By being aware of these potential hidden costs, you can plan better, avoid surprises, and keep your travel budget under control.
What is the best time of year to travel to Europe on a budget?
The best time to travel to Europe on a budget is during spring (April to June) and fall (September to October). During these periods, you’ll find a balance between pleasant weather, fewer tourists, and lower prices on flights and accommodations.
During peak summer months (July and August), tourist hotspots are crowded, and prices for flights and accommodations can skyrocket. Winter (November to March), while offering cheaper travel options, can be cold and wet in many parts of Europe, and some attractions may have reduced hours or be closed.
Shoulder seasons, on the other hand, provide the opportunity to enjoy milder weather and fewer crowds while taking advantage of lower off-peak prices. These periods also often coincide with local events or festivals that can significantly enhance your travel experience.
For example, spring in Europe is a time of blossoming flowers and comfortably warm weather, whereas fall offers an array of beautiful autumnal colors. Both periods are ideal for outdoor activities such as sightseeing, hiking, and exploring cities by foot.
However, it’s important to remember that the best time can vary depending on your specific destination. For instance, Southern European countries like Spain, Italy, and Greece are often still warm and less crowded in early fall, making it a perfect time for a budget visit.
In conclusion, choosing the shoulder seasons for your European trip offers the best combination of affordability, comfortable weather, and enjoyable travel experiences. As always, do your research to find the optimal time for your chosen destination.